Wak­ing Hours

Emma Mur­ray (43) is a non-fic­tion au­thor and de­but nov­el­ist. From Malahide in Dublin, she now lives in south-west Lon­don with her hus­band, Sam, and their daugh­ters — Ava (10) and Anya (eight)

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - CONTENTS - ‘Time Out’ by Emma Mur­ray is pub­lished by Bold­wood Books, €10 em­ma­mur­ray.net/fic­tion/ @em­ma­mur­rayau­thor @Mur­rayEmma In con­ver­sa­tion with Ciara Dwyer

Au­thor Emma Mur­ray shares her day

It’s all fun and games from about 6.30am. My daugh­ters go into each other to have a big chat or a big scrap. One of them has de­vel­oped a pho­bia about spi­ders, so if there is a bug in the room, we’ll have a bit of scream­ing.

I’m half-awake for all of this but my alarm doesn’t go off un­til 7am, so I can­not phys­i­cally move my­self out of bed un­til then. My hus­band Sam gets up be­fore me and he does the break­fast shift. I grab a bowl of ce­real, bring it to my desk and work from 7.15am un­til 9am. Then we swap shifts. He goes up to his makeshift desk in our room and then I’m on with the kids un­til 2pm.

We both have full-on jobs. I’m a freelancer. I’m a co-au­thor for aca­demic text­books — a writ­ing job that ac­tu­ally pays money — so I’ve got a team in the States. We’re writ­ing a new in­tro­duc­tion to a busi­ness book.

My first novel,

Time Out, has just been pub­lished, and

I’m work­ing on my sec­ond. I have a three-book deal. It’s very ex­cit­ing be­cause I’ve been work­ing up to this since I was eight years old.

Sam works in tech­nol­ogy. He’s very much in the house th­ese days. Be­fore Covid-19, he would be out of the house by 7.30am, work­ing in an of­fice in Ca­nary Wharf and back by 6.30pm. And I was at home work­ing while the girls were at school. I’ve been work­ing at home for 13 years, so it’s kind of my own space. Or, at least, it was; but for the past five months, we are all here. I would give any­thing to walk into a room with no­body in it. Ev­ery­where I go, there are peo­ple.

I’m quite a soli­tary crea­ture and I love my own space. I love walk­ing into the kitchen and tak­ing a break from work and lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast and hav­ing the headspace to get away from it all. Now there isn’t one minute of the day that isn’t caught up with, ‘Can I have a snack?’

We live in south-west Lon­don, near Wim­ble­don. The pubs are open again but

I just wouldn’t be both­ered. What’s the point putting your­self at risk when you’ve come this far?

I have MS but it’s pretty mild, and I’m not on the list of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. It’s not like hav­ing se­ri­ous heart prob­lems.

But it’s an au­toim­mune con­di­tion, so my neu­rol­o­gist told me to stay off pub­lic trans­port. But con­sid­er­ing I work from home, it doesn’t make much dif­fer­ence. I prob­a­bly wouldn’t go into a big crowded su­per­mar­ket, just to be care­ful.

I worked in bank­ing in Lon­don for eight years. Then, when I was 30, I was di­ag­nosed with MS. I went com­pletely numb on my left-hand side and I had pins and nee­dles in my legs. I was go­ing out with my now hus­band for about six months when this hap­pened. I told him that I felt weird. I come from a fam­ily that doesn’t re­ally do doc­tors. He said, ‘Maybe you should talk to my dad.’ His dad is a neu­rol­o­gist. I’d never met him be­fore as it was early in the re­la­tion­ship, it wasn’t ex­actly at the meet-the-par­ents stage. His dad said that it sounded like MS and that I needed to get an MRI. I had the MRI and there it was. What a catch!

I was liv­ing with Sam at the time and I didn’t know what to do. I went on statutory sick leave from work. They were re­ally sup­port­ive and they let me work from home for ages, but my fo­cus wasn’t there.

I took eight months off and then I re­mem­ber say­ing to Sam: ‘What am I go­ing to do?’ He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him that I’d al­ways wanted to be a writer. He said, ‘So what’s the prob­lem? Be a writer.’ That’s his an­swer to every­thing. When it comes to Sam, there are no ob­sta­cles.

Writ­ing fic­tion is won­der­ful for your men­tal health be­cause you are just off in your own lit­tle world. You feel so much bet­ter after­wards. Dur­ing my work­ing day, I bal­ance writ­ing the busi­ness books and fic­tion. The fac­tual stuff is eas­ier to do, but I love writ­ing fic­tion.

Time Out was in­spired by my ex­pe­ri­ences when I had my ba­bies. I wanted to write in a comedic way about the strug­gles of be­ing a mom, and how dif­fi­cult it was with the judg­ments. I was des­per­ately try­ing to go by the book and when things didn’t work out, I was crack­ing up. No one else seemed to have any prob­lems. And when

I moaned about be­ing tired or sick of breast­feed­ing, I didn’t get any em­pa­thy. In­stead I got tales of per­fec­tion.

I thought that I was do­ing every­thing wrong. It’s a bit like gam­bling, you only hear about the wins. I was so vul­ner­a­ble and tired and a lot of the crit­i­cisms hit home. I thought, ‘I’ve ru­ined my daugh­ter’s life and maybe she’s go­ing to end up on top of a build­ing as a sniper when she’s 18’.

“If I hadn’t got MS, I wouldn’t have left my big, fancy bank­ing job to write fic­tion”

In a way, MS did me a favour. There is no way that I would have left my big, fancy bank­ing job and my gi­ant salary to write nov­els. Don’t get me wrong, if some­body said, ‘I’ll get rid of MS for you’, I’d bite the hand off them. But day to day, I’m in a for­tu­nate po­si­tion. I work from home, I can man­age it and I lis­ten to my body. I know very lit­tle about MS be­cause I refuse to catas­trophise it.

In the evenings we have din­ner to­gether, the kids shower and then we all gather as a fam­ily on the couch to watch 20 min­utes of TV. We might watch Bake Off to­gether. The girls are usu­ally asleep by 8.30pm and I’m in bed at 10pm. If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m like a har­ri­dan.

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